CHISAGO COUNTY, Minn. (WCCO) -- People visiting county fairs this summer are starting to notice something is missing: birds.
The Chisago County Fair opens Thursday in Rush City. And like every other fair in the state, it has been directed to cancel its live poultry exhibits to prevent the possible spread of bird flu.
For students with 4H, summer is usually their time to show off the hard work they have put in to raising and grooming their animals.
Mariah Huberty, 17, has raised many award-winning birds on her family's farm near Harris. She was hoping to add more trophies and ribbons to her collection this summer, but that was before this year's outbreak.
"A little over nine million birds have been affected by avian influenza [in Minnesota]," Mariah said. "Mine haven't been hit, thankfully."
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health directed all fairs in the state to ban live poultry this year. With so many birds in a small space, and so many people tracking in dirt and mud, the risk was too great.
Kari Myhran, 14, had hoped to show a few chickens this year.
"This was going to be my last year in a certain category of showmanship, so I was hoping to do well in that," Kari said.
Kari and Mariah understand the concern. Visitors to their own farms are asked to cover their feet now.
"I've been worried about my birds getting it, so I've been taking cautions in bio security," Kari said.
Those who planned to show at the Chisago County Fair are being allowed to come up with alternatives this year.
Mariah will show off her chicken tractor and three New Zealand white rabbits.
"I'm not quite sure what I'll do with them after the county fair since I think my birds are my favorite," Mariah said.
Kari came up with a written report and an illustrated diagram of a hen's reproductive system.
"It won't be as fun as having live birds there, but I think that it will be fun," Kari said.
The bird flu crisis does seem to be winding down, with no new cases reported in commercial flocks in Minnesota for about a month.
Many of those farmers who suffered big losses hope to be restocking soon.
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